Don’t Rush by Good Friday

Pretty gold crosses dangling on shiny chains have a narcotic effect on our thoughts about the Cross. So do two thousand years of time’s passage and five thousand miles of distance. Our sanitized crosses fall far short of the gut-wrenching realities of crucifixion. What the Gospels say in four icy words, “and they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25), would have been emotionally devastating to behold, much less endure.

Of all the big deals in theology, the biggest deal is the Cross of Christ and all it means. So Jesus gathered his ragtag followers and turned a Passover meal into an endless commemoration of that dark day soon to dawn.

Jesus is into commemorating because we are into forgetting. “Never forget,” he said.

As we move from Good Friday, into Easter, it’s crucial we re-calibrate our hearts to this mother of all theological messages.

Scripture contemplates the Cross in five little words: “Christ died for our sins.” Christ died — that’s history; we could have seen it with our eyes had we been there. For our sins — that’s theology. It requires a revelation of God. Let’s open our hearts this season to the brutal realities of these words.

Christ Died (History)

Medical experts have reconstructed the physiological effects of this horrific Roman death by torture. Though they don’t all agree on the various details, they all affirm agonies beyond comprehension.

Scourging. So Pilate too Jesus and scourged him, the Bible simply says (John 19:1). To scourge means to skin alive with a whip. The beating was made worse by bones or weights embedded in the whips tail. Deep bruising, rib fractures, and open lacerations would result.

The Crown of Thorns. Most likely, the crown of thorns would have been shaped more like a cap than a circlet, and would have covered the whole head. Matthew explains that soldiers “took the reed and struck Him on the head” (Matthew 27:30), in effect hammering the spikes into Christ’s scalp. Excruciating pain would have followed.

Never forget the price Jesus paid.

Nails. The spikes were made of iron and about four to five inches long. The force used in driving the nails would have caused searing pain throughout his body. Given what Jesus had already endured, shock was inevitable. As soon as the body’s full weight transferred to the nails through his hands and feet, Christ’s already horrific pain would have been magnified to levels beyond words.

Death. The two little words, “Christ died,” pack enough punch to send the devil tumbling head over heels across the cosmos forever. Christ died because his work was finished. He paid the price. He satisfied justice. He died the death we deserved.

In all this, He was nobody’s victim.

The next time you partake of the Communion cup and bread, stop and take a breath. Bring your mind back to that awful day. Block everything out long enough to remember the Lord’s brutal death.

This is the fountainhead of all grace. This is the Cross. This is what God did for you when Jesus died.

Yet, none of his physical sufferings compared to the pains about to come.

For Our Sins (Theology)

What could be more painful than the tortures, the beatings, the crown of thorns, and the nails through his hands and feet?

Our sins.

When our sins were laid upon him, that’s when Jesus cried out.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46)

For Jesus, no physical suffering compared to being forsaken by God—a black-box mystery, a breach in the eternal fellowship between Christ on the cross and his Father in heaven. This is impenetrable darkness. Bow in wonder and keep silent.

Why did God forsake him?

Because God was judging him for the sin of the world. Damning him. Condemning him. Christ died for our sins. For my sins. For yours.

By the blood of His Cross, you’ve been redeemed (1 Peter 1:18–19), reconciled (Colossians 1:20), forgiven (Ephesians 1:7), brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13), cleansed in conscience (Hebrews 9:14), been made satisfactory to God (by propitiation, Romans 3:25), and declared good enough for God forever (by justification, Romans 5:9).

It was his death—not his life, not his teachings, not his miracles, not his love—that shoved darkness into a bottomless pit and rescued your sorry soul forever. Yes, these wonders of the life of Christ dazzle angels and demons, yet they were nothing if not a prelude to his death.

Let’s not rush through Good Friday. Let’s not forget the Ground Zero of our salvation — the birthplace of grace, and the foundation of the church.

Christ died for our sins.

Hallelujah.

[adapted from Grace Intervention]

 

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Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

The Cross

iPad“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you.  It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”

[John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (London, 1968), 179.]

As a pastor, I tailor my instruction to the audience.

Sometimes, I’m talking to people who are broken and desperate. They need to be built up, as Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery. Continue reading

Four Benefits of Salvation Invitations

scaryevangelist1Dear Pastor,

Please give a salvation invitation. Not every week, perhaps (unless evangelism is your spiritual gift, in which case you don’t need this post). Not even every month. I’m not suggesting you set much of a schedule at all. But periodically, as the Holy Spirit leads, or as the calendar suggests, speak to those in your congregation who are not saved, invite them to cross the line of faith, and lead them in a prayer of faith, right there, on the spot.

It is not my objective, in this post, to defend the idea of evangelism, the gospel of grace, or salvation as a “moment” in which a person passes from death to life. I have done that here and here and here. Nor will we engage the calvinist/arminian controversy, except to say… Continue reading

“But God…” A Dozen Reversals of Life’s Heartaches, pt 2

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Fussy grammarians identify the word “BUT” as an adversative conjunction; something like the word “and” with a contrary attitude. When a decent “but” drops into a sentence, it turns the world upside down. How true, especially when the “but” unveils a divine operation — a heaven-sent miracle for life’s darkest hour.

This crabby but beautiful adversative conjunction invites your faith in a God who is the adversary of all that breaks your heart.

Today’s post is part two from an earlier post which you may find here. I hope you find comfort, strength, peace, and hope in a half dozen more “BUT GODS.”

  1. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV). As the argument goes here, you might help out a friend; you might do something good for a decent human being. We find it far easier to help a person who is decent, thrifty, brave, and clean. BUT GOD is different. He embraces us with a love that knows now bounds when we are at our worst. While we were still sinners — moral train wrecks, fallen, helpless, and still shaking our collective fist in his face — the Son of God paid the ultimate sacrifice by shedding his precious blood on Calvary’s hill. He did not fold his arms and wait till we had our act together. Christ died for us, God proved his love for us, and the invitation to heaven’s banquet was sent to us long before we ever deserved it. But God…
  2. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV). The earliest Christian churches weren’t pretty. They attracted society’s lower classes — not many mighty, not many wealthy, not many educated saints sang the praises of God. From all outward appearances, Christianity was a rag-tag assemblage of life’s last in line. The upper-crust occupants of Downton Abbey would look down their patrician noses and scoff. Who are these rabble? Must they be so noisy? What do they matter? BUT GOD delights in choosing life’s B-Team and using us to turn the world upside down. It is not the size of your portfolio, but the quality of your heart, that puts a smile on the face of God. Not your social rank, not your Klout score, not your Amazon ranking, and not an elite pedigree that fits you for service to the kingdom of God. It is your humble receipt of grace and your glorious identity in Christ that chases away the devil’s darkness and makes the angels stand and cheer.
  3. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV). This is one of my favorite verses. No matter what adversities assail you, God is faithful. The night may be dark, the wait may be long, the news may be bad, the hope may unravel, BUT GOD will never let you go. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  4. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:18, NKJV). Hi. My name is Bill and I am a recovering legalist. Having spent half my life straining every fiber to measure up to God’s impossible demands, I so love the reversal in this verse. At question is the nature of God’s way of granting heaven’s immeasurably rich inheritance to God’s people: how does this happen? What is the nature of our great salvation? Paul offers only two choices: law or promise. These two choices determine the human response. If God offers salvation based on law, then the response must be obedience, compliance with the laws of God. If that’s the case, bend over backwards and kiss heaven’s inheritance goodbye; you’ve already screwed it up. BUT GOD offers salvation, not as a law to obey, but as a PROMISE. How do you respond when a promise is made? Simply BELIEVE. Your legalistic demons may peck you into bondage and despair, BUT GOD will keep his promise: he will save you freely and forever based on the finished work of Jesus Christ if you will only believe.
  5. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (Ephesians 2:4, NKJV). Spiritual corpses, sinful, seized by diabolical forces beyond our control, slaves to lust and passion, and “children of wrath…” That is our dossier, by nature, before the court of heaven. The slimy pit of human depravity offers no escape. Any right-thinking judge, any decent, self-respecting God, would hurl javelins of judgment our way without batting an eye. Condemnation is our due. BUT GOD, who is rich him mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It just doesn’t get better than that. Thank God for the shed blood of Christ!
  6. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV). “Image is everything.” “It’s not the truth that matters, but the perception of truth.” Every day we swim in a sea of philosophical sharks ready to shred our hope, our self-esteem, and the deepest truths about who we are in Christ. Religious pretense. Social climbing. Outward conformity to the peer group. Fit in. Be cool. Dress just right. The world’s philosophies will squeeze you into a mold that can only lead to the death of your dreams and a cold and bitter heart. The world says we must boast in our conformity to its death-dealing system. BUT GOD opens a way of escape, inviting us to glory in the Cross of Christ, to stand secure in the robes of righteousness, to rest in the grip of his hand, and to wait for his glorious appearance. Your search for significance is over — you have found it in the approval of God gained once for all by the matchless grace of the Cross.

Please click the share buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Thanks. 

How has God reversed your fortunes? Are there any BUT GOD moments, big or small, you can point to? You can encourage us all in the comments below. 

Lessons from the King Who (Almost) Killed Christmas

Who was he? Herod the Great, as he liked to be called, was the not-so-great king of the Jews about the time when Jesus was born. By today’s standards he was a bad guy’s bad guy — ruthless, cunning, violent, vengeful, opportunistic, political, murderous. Herod ruled by fear. He has been called “the incarnation of brute lust” (ISBE). When the wise men came to visit the newborn King, Herod took offense; who else could be king but himself?

Following political customs, the wise men from the east (Persia) paid King Herod a visit. “We’ve come to see the newborn King of the Jews,” they said.

“Very nice,” he said. “Let me know when you find him, so I may also come and, er… uhh… worship him.” To death, but he didn’t say that part out loud.

To maintain his kingship against this usurper, Herod did the unthinkable: he ordered the slaughter of every baby boy in Bethlehem, ages two and under. No violence is “unthinkable” to a power-monger that denies the sacredness of human life.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, NKJV).

Because Bethlehem and its suburbs were small, it is estimated between 8 and 50 were killed. Even one makes heaven weep.

What can this ancient mass murderer teach us for today?

1. We are ultimately defined by what we do with Jesus. As the gospels tell the story, a train of characters came face to face with the claims of the newborn king. The SHEPHERD raced to see him. The WISE MEN travelled to worship him. The INN-KEEPER displaced him. MARY pondered him. JOSEPH sheltered him. The ANGELS went wild over him. HEROD envied him and sought to kill him. Each one responded in their own way.

What is your way? What is your response?

The most important thing about you is not your portfolio, not your looks, not your social status, not your grades, not your muscles, not your house or cars, not your human relationships. The most important thing about you is what you have done with Jesus Christ. Who is he to you?

It was infinite love that brought him into the world to save us. It was infinite condescension by which he fully identified with life in this fallen world. It was infinite mystery that he became our sin bearer. It was infinite mercy that he received the just penalty for your sin and mine. It is infinite grace that offers you the gift of eternal life — forgiveness of sins, love everlasting, a new start every day, and all the goodness that Jesus brings.

Have you received him as your own? Have you said yes to his gift of life? His arms are open wide — run to him and pin your hopes on him.

If Jesus is the God-man, then what you do with him is the central issue of your existence. God will only ask, Who was Jesus to you? Did you treat him as just one of many details in your busy life, or did you see in him your all in all? Was he something to your salvation, or was he everything?

God designed heaven as a place to launch the fame of Jesus beyond the stratosphere forevermore.

Either you’re good with that project or not. To Herod, Jesus was an annoyance, an obstacle, a threat to his chosen way of life. Eliminate him! he said. Don’t go down that path. Reach out to him and take his hand — it is the defining choice of your whole existence.

2. We have nobody to blame if we reject him. Why did Herod hate Jesus? Was it because the wise men were hypocrites? Was there a defect in their testimony about him? Maybe the God-followers he knew weren’t loving enough. Maybe they didn’t do enough good deeds for those less fortunate. All true, no doubt, to some degree. But ultimately, Herod was to blame for his own impenetrable heart. He made that choice. When he heard of the Savior, he hardened his heart and set out to kill him. He would have no god but himself — a fatal delusion in any age.

So the Bible says we all are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

We must take 100% responsibility for our choices, our faith or lack of it, our character, and our lives. Yes, our parents, society, environment, and genetics play a role in who we become. They give us a collective shove in a certain direction. In fact, the whole Herodian Dynasty were pretty ruthless. But unless we want to define humans as robotic victims of forces beyond their control — and, hence, utterly unaccountable for their evils — we need to respect the volition, i.e., the power of free will. [*there are some with organic mental illness or mental deficiencies that render them incapable of understanding the issues of the gospel, and incapable of choice — these, by grace, are brought to heaven in the end, but that’s for another post.]

Herod had nobody to blame. Ditto for the rest of us.

3. Some will not embrace Jesus no matter what testimony we offer. A miraculous star. An epic quest by his generation’s most venerable scholars. A collection of prophecies that prove his identity beyond doubt. All this evidence, and Herod still rejected the Savior.

Jesus said that not even a man coming back to life from the dead would provide a more persuasive argument than the written Word of God (Luke 16:31).

Once again, the testimony may be powerful, the sacrificial witness peerless, and the gospel presentation flawless, and some will still stiff arm Christ. You can offer the world a Christian life as Christian as Christ, and still get the same result: “For even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5, NKJV).

The gospel will never be palatable to a heart set on being its own god. And while the people of God must “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) by lives of integrity and goodness, we can do that perfectly and some will still not believe. This is not to excuse Christians behaving badly. Even so, more times than not, when critics blame the church’s shortcomings for their lack of faith in Christ, it’s just a lame excuse. Truth be told, there’s a little rebel lurking in every heart, crying out, “We will not have this man to rule over us.” But who wants to admit that? Much easier to blame the Christians and wash our hands of Christ.

Herod had all the evidence he needed and still pushed aside the Savior.

4. All must be invited and summoned to him. As nasty as Herod was, God sent evangelists in the form of wise men. “Hey, King, the Savior’s born,” they said. “Thanks, I’ll kill him later,” Herod said. Even so, God sent him witnesses. The great mission of the church is to tell the world, through words backed up by deeds, of the Savior, Jesus.

The Savior was born. Everybody needs to know. Bad people, good people, and in-between people. Young, old. Near and far. Everybody who breathes needs to hear the name of Jesus.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14, 15, NKJV).

Christmas is God’s gift to the world of lost sinners. Even society’s Herods must hear. Even society’s worst are not beyond the hope of redemption. God is the great evangelist, and we are called to join with him, spreading across the globe like ant colonies, with the song of the angels: “Fear not, for unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

5. You can’t break Jesus or God’s Word. You can only break yourself against Jesus and God’s Word.  Herod died a lonely, bitter, miserable old man. He was such a butcher to his own family, Augustus Caesar said, “I would rather be Herod’s hog than Herod’s son” (ISBE).

What is truth?

Truth is reality. What is truth? Truth is reality as God sees it, God experiences, and God defines it. To build a life on God’s truth is to stand on solid rock. Everything else is sinking sand. You cannot beat yourself against God’s bedrock truth and come away unbloodied. God’s truth is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. You can’t break God’s laws, you can only break yourself against God’s laws.

To fight reality… well, that’s just crazy.

Christmas proves God wasn’t content to sit in heaven and lob truth bombs onto planet earth. He wrapped up the ultimate truth/reality — his own self — into a human nature, and came into our world as a baby. His whole life radiated the reality of heaven and a life set free. Come to him. Align your life to him. Live in reality, not unreality.

Like most things in life, when it comes to TRUTH, there’s an easy way and a hard way. I suppose the only good legacy Herod the Great left this broken world is a moral warning: it’s best not to choose the hard way.

[ISBE = International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]

Remember the Cross of Christ

jesuscrossThere has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus Christ in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.

This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.

The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables:  Christ died for our sins.

A little bit of history: “Christ died.”

A little bit of theology: “For our sins.”

Our great task is to keep telling that bit of history coupled with that bit of theology for all generations, till the Lord returns.

Let’s chew on this one grammatically…

crossvandyke.jpgThe Subject:  Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel’s integrity.

The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.

  • When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
  • When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
  • When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.

Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No!  Christ is and must remain the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.

The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist).  It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died once, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.

The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:

“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the  shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as  the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an  oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial  bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce  large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging  in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues.  When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the  beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]

On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes.  Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort.  As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

cross2It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…

Why?

The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology.  We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.

The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled  a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huperplus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.

This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.

He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him.  Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.

What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?

This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat.  It is the only gospel that saves a soul.

Do you believe?

Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin.  Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;crossgrunewaldalive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me. 
(Charles Wesley)

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross.  Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.

For comments today, please only brief expressions of gratitude to God, or favorite brief Scripture verses.

Eternal Security #2

A continuation…

Objections

Not all Christians agree on the doctrine of Eternal Security. This is one of those areas where reasonable Christians disagree. A good number of godly, scholarly, biblical evangelical, born-again Christians would deny Eternal Security. They offer two main objections: 1) that the Bible doesn’t teach it; 2) that it leads to spiritual laziness.

1) The Bible doesn’t teach it.

Opponents to the doctrine say the Bible teaches just the opposite, that you can, in fact lose your salvation. They have a whole list of verses that they claim teach this. However, if you analyze these verses one by one you will discover that they really do not teach against Eternal Security at all. Rather these verses either talk about people who weren’t saved in the first place, or about people who lose the joy of their salvation without losing their salvation. There are about six
main Bible verses routinely brought up. We could spend hours here, but I’m only going to offer one or two sentences on each verse. OPEN YOUR BIBLE… and make some notes!!

1. Matt. 10:22. This verse is about deliverance from physical destruction at
the end of the Great Tribulation, not about enduring spiritually
to the end of your life in order to obtain eternal salvation.
2. Hebr. 3:14. The issue here is the word “end.” Until the end. End here
refers to the end of the process of salvation, not to the end of
your life. In the context we learn that getting saved is a
process. You are saved if you start the process of salvation,
and then bring it through to completion by faith in Christ. That
is the goal or end in view in this verse.
3. Hebr. 6:4-6. One of the “mother-ships” of conditional security. This passage is about people who dipped their toes in the
water of salvation, but were never saved.
4. 2 Pet. 2:20-22. Again, this verse refers to people who were really never saved.
5. James 2:17; 2:20; 2:26. An act of mind only (faith) without a choice in the will (works) is useless (dead). Still, though, we believe that life true faith does result in a life of good works (Eph 2:10).
6. Col. 1:23. The word “if” here in the KJV should be translated since.

These are some of the scriptural objections to Eternal Security. We have only mentioned six verses, and there are others. But if you really study them in context, you will see that all of the objection verses would be correctly interpreted in two categories: either the people weren’t saved in the first place; or they were and are saved, but have lost the joy of their salvation.

Tomorrow, the objection that eternal security produces spiritual laziness, then on to the mountain of positive affirmations of once saved alway saved.

One parting shot… is conditional security really security at all? Is a conditional forgiveness really forgiveness at all?

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NKJV).

Why Grace-Oriented People Still Need God’s Law or Bring Back the Ten Commandments!

If you know me, you know me as a champion of the grace of God. I have dedicated my ministry to preaching and teaching the truths of God’s amazing grace. Along with that, I’ve dedicated my life to destroying legalism. I hate it, in Christian love.

You also know I haven’t blogged for a while, so this is something important to me. Thanks for reading.

Today’s post is prompted by a conversation with my wife. In her business ethics class at a Christian university, she asked her students how many of them would hire someone they knew was cheating on their spouse. Most students said they would. Then she asked how many would go into a business partnership with someone cheating on their spouse. Most opted out, but still quite a few said they would. When Margi pointed out that a man who would cheat on his most important relationship would find it easier to cheat on you, few were swayed. The class discussion moved on to plagiarism. Most were in favor of forgiving the plagiarist and letting him/her write a substitute paper. When it came to Bible majors or seminary students, most were still tolerant, though a reluctant few brought down the hammer of justice.

Bottom line: grace has been morphed into an ultra-tolerant, indiscriminate leniency. I have written on that before (Why Grace Isn’t Leniency) so I won’t cover that old ground again.

What I want to say today is simple: our culture is dissolving before our very eyes because we have removed GOD’S LAW FROM THE CHURCH. Yep, this is me, a Champion of Grace, pleading for grace-oriented Christians to restore the law of God to its rightful place in the grace-oriented church of Jesus Christ today. Yes, it’s the age of grace. Yes, Christ brings grace. Yes, we are saved by grace and live by grace.

But does that mean we throw out the Law? Does that mean the Ten Commandments no longer have a place in our lives?

No and no. Here’s why:

1. Under grace, the goal of the Christian life is conformity to Jesus Christ.

God is committed to reproducing the integrity and love of Christ in his people. This happens by God’s power; it is not something we work up for ourselves. Only Jesus can live the WJJD lifestyle and he will do it again through his people. If you have been born again, Christ lives in you. He constantly exerts an inward force to make you more and more like himself. And he doesn’t come with an off-switch. Grace is the power of God, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, reproducing the character and love of Christ inside of Christians.

You can’t read the epistles of Paul without bumping into this truth (I use Paul because few would argue against the assertion that he is the apostle of grace). For example:

  • “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).
  • But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).
  • For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29, NKJV).

2. Under grace, Jesus Christ was a Ten Commandments kind of person.

He did not come to destroy the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). You can’t understand the life of Christ without accepting his dedication to fulfill every “jot and tittle” of God’s law. His character reflected the character of God’s law, his knowledge reflected the wisdom of God’s law, his actions reflected obedience to God’s law, his preaching reflected the supremacy of God’s law. Nothing Jesus said or did contradicted even a syllable of God’s law. There are two important reasons for this…

3. The Laws of God reflect the heart of God. 

God’s laws are God’s laws because God’s heart is God’s heart. The commandments of Scripture are not random, disconnected requirements — they are expressions of the deepest truths woven into the universe and our psyches by the God who made us. Because God’s laws reflect God’s heart, they share a quality that is absolutely essential for our happiness and joy…

4. The Laws of God describe a life of LOVE.

Don’t forget how Jesus summarized God’s laws: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NKJV).

Translation: TO CAST ASIDE GOD’S LAW IS TO CAST ASIDE THE ONLY SURE GUIDE TO LOVE WE HAVE. We are fallen, depraved people. We have no clue about what true love is. Until God explains that love means honest scales at the butcher shop (Lev 19:26), not sleeping with another man’s wife  or another woman’s husband (Ex 20:14), and not committing incest (Lev 18:6). Love means kindness to widows and orphans and maintaining your own integrity. Love means true worship, true speaking, true care for others. All of these things and more are in GOD’S LAW — covering every aspect of life. God’s law is a book of love, the New Testament even says so:

  • Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NKJV).
  • Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9, NKJV).
  • So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:12, NKJV).

5. Jesus lived a life of love because he obeyed God’s laws. 

He was a Ten Commandments kind of person. The Ten Commandments, along with all of God’s laws, are like an FBI profile of Jesus. That’s how he lived. That’s what he was like.

If you want an emotionally healthy life, if you want great relationships, if you want good boundaries in your life, you will keep the Ten Commandments. God’s laws describe the LIFE OF YOUR DREAMS. God is not interested in constricting your life; he wants to set you in a realm of true freedom and perfect liberty. His laws describe the heart of Christ… which leads us back to #1…

6. Under grace, God is reproducing the life of Christ inside you — and he lived a life in perfect harmony with God’s laws.

If Jesus lived a Ten Commandments lifestyle, and if God is reproducing the life of Christ in us by his Spirit, then God is reproducing a Ten Commandments (Law Affirming) life in all his children today.

We desperately need to know the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, including the LAW, if we are to ever have a clue what Christ is trying to reproduce in us. We need the Law as our map, our guide, the lamp to our feet. We need to know where God is taking us so we don’t fight him. We need to know what God has said so we exercise faith in accordance with his Words. To throw away the Law is to throw away THE ENDGAME AND OBJECTIVE OF GOD’S GRACE AS IT FUNCTIONS IN OUR LIVES. Says who? Says Paul himself:

  • that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4, NKJV).
He is saying that what God has been trying to create in your life since the beginning is what the Law has always taught.

What does this mean? It does NOT mean that we live UNDER the law. We don’t. “UNDER” is the wrong preposition. It does mean that the law is fulfilled IN US through Christ. As we abide in Christ, as we turn to him in dependency and faith, we will put into practice the laws of God day by day… which will produce a life of love… which will produce the life of our dreams… which is what the age of grace is all about.

It is not legalism, because it is not our power. It is not legalism because it is not external, it is Christ, by his Spirit, from the inside out. It is not legalism because it is not UNTO justification, but FROM justification, unto sanctification. It is not legalism, because it is not a demand on us, it is a demand on God. It is not legalism because it is a gift put into us through Christ himself at salvation and every day thereafter.

Jesus, Paul, James, Moses, and all the writers of Scripture were ANTI-LEGALISM but PRO-LAW. LEGALISM is humans by human effort seeking to merit the approval of God. But GRACE is God, by God’s effort, doing in and through us what we could never do for ourselves: making us like Christ.

We Christians made a big fuss about how the government has censored the Ten Commandments from our classrooms and the public arena. But haven’t we beaten them to the punch? Haven’t we so misconstrued Scripture that we’ve censored the Ten Commandments FROM THE CHURCH? We need — our young people especially — a return to the Law of God as a guide into a life of grace.

Have we as Christians become so tolerant in our attempts to be PC that we are hard to recognize as Christians?  Do we live as if there are no rules, no laws, no absolutes?  Have we morphed grace into bland leniency? Have we adopted antinomianism? The general rudeness in society, the lack of moral values, the embrace of any prodigal while still in the far country, the mushiness of our faith, and the miniscule difference between our lives and the lives of unbelievers, can all be traced to a departure from the whole counsel of God, including the Law of the Lord, which is perfect.

God bless Tim Tebow, Kirk Cameron, and those in the public eye willing to stand up for Jesus, for the Bible, for truth . . . For the law of the universe which happens to be the law of God recorded in Scripture.

Bring back the Ten Commandments, not as a way of salvation, but as a way of self-respecting love for God and others.

How do we reconcile grace and works? Simple: being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:6, NKJV). God’s work — not ours alone– will create a life of love, a reproduction of the life of Christ in our lives. A life of God’s good, holy, and pure law which is, by definition, a life of love, which is by definition, the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Grace and law have kissed each other in Jesus Christ. May they kiss each other in your life too.

Let’s preach GRACE as the only means of fulfilling the law through the power of Christ in us.

Let’s preach LAW as guardian and guide of a life dedicated to God and his heart of love.

Damn! (ch 8 from FOUR LETTER WORDS)

Time Magazine Apr 25, 2011

Spurred by the sizzling sales of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the April 25 issue of Time Magazine features the Cover Story: WHAT IF THERE’S NO HELL? 

Here is an excerpt from Four Letter Words, my latest book. Leave your email at the end to continue reading, and I’ll notify you as future chapters released. Please share this link…   

Chapter 8

DAMN

The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.

A.W. Tozer[i]

TOUCHY IDEAS

  1. Hell is real.
  2. God’s justice and God’s love exist in perfect harmony; therefore, the teaching of Hell in no way contradicts the loving heart of God.
  3. Love can’t win if holiness loses.
  4. A person’s response to Jesus in this lifetime determines his or her destiny in the next lifetime.
  5. This destiny is permanent and unchanging; Scripture describes no post-mortem second chances.

TOUCHY SCRIPTURES

  1. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27.
  2. “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:31.
  3. “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Romans 2:5.
  4. “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15.
  5.  “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:11, 12.

* * * * *

CHEERLEADING THE UNDERWORLD?

In researching this chapter, I stumbled upon some ultra-disturbing statements. In these statements, famous leaders of church history celebrate the damnation of lost people. In the interests of full disclosure, here are some horrid examples.

I apologize in advance.

  • Tertullian, pastor, author, (A.D. 160-220). “At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness…”[ii]
  • Jonathan Edwards, pastor (1703-1758). “[T]he sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever… [I]t will really make their happiness the greater…”[iii]
  • Samuel Hopkins, pastor (1721-1803). “This display of the divine character will be most entertaining to all who love God, will give them the highest and most ineffable pleasure. Should the fire of this eternal punishment cease, it would in a great measure obscure the light of heaven, and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of the blessed.”[iv]

“Entertaining?” Are you kidding? Grab your popcorn, and I’ll race you for a front row seat to watch the torment of the damned.

If this reflects the spirit of Christ, count me out.

The premise of this book is that Christianity is the most plausible, coherent, and beautiful system ever offered the world. But this “I [Heart] Hell” theology spoils that beauty like a stink bomb in an elevator.

The Bible does not whoop it up over hell. Jesus wept over the lostness of people (Luke 19:41). St. Paul wished he could accept damnation himself in place of his countrymen (Romans 9:3). God is not willing that any should perish, declared Peter (2 Peter 3:9). No damnation “happy feet” in sight.

The celebration of hell perverts biblical Christianity. As a pastor and a follower of Jesus, I apologize if this creepy teaching has ever messed with your mind. I’m sorry.

Yes, we have our share of nut-job God-defenders, picketing their hate, but this attitude does not reflect the majority of Christ’s followers today. None of the churches, seminaries, or organizations I’ve been a part of has ever fanned the flames of hell. In fact, the opposite is true. The idea of hell has only prompted sadness and concern among the Jesus-followers I’ve known.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a refined, highly-educated London preacher named R.W. Dale encouraged a rough, uneducated American evangelist named D.L. Moody. Moody conducted a preaching tour in England, and many of the snooty British pastors boycotted him. Dale however, joined forces with Moody. He said, “Moody is the only preacher who has the right to preach on Hell, because he can’t do it without tears in his eyes.”

The Bible’s revelation of Hell should melt your heart. Divine justice should cause silent awe, not giddy happiness. When Jesus unleashes the forces of judgment in the future apocalypse, the universe responds with stunned silence, not clap-happy glee (Revelation 8:1).

If you’re doing a slow burn right now, I get it. For some, even the idea of hell seems obscene. And, nobody can prove heaven, hell, or an afterlife. Like everything else we’re talking about, it’s a matter of faith. I’m just asking if it’s a plausible faith. I think it is, and I’d like to explain why. Right after we explore five hellish viewpoints that wave the “Christian” banner.

VIEWS ON HELL

1. Universalism, a.k.a., Pluralism

Universalists believe all will be saved through sincere devotion to the religion of their culture, choice, or upbringing. Under this view, Christ is not the only way to God. All roads lead to heaven, like hiking trails converging on the same mountaintop. Universalists claim scriptural support in verses that say God desires “all” people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that God reconciled “the world” to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). For them, the character of God begins and ends with love.

In their world, God’s love wins, even at the expense of his other attributes of holiness, purity, and truth.

Carlton Pearson, a prominent pastor in the United Church of Christ said he did not believe “God would consign countless souls – or anyone, for that matter – to hell.” He teaches a “gospel of inclusion” which he describes as “basic universalism.”[v]

My Inner Nice Guy wants to be a Universalist. No hellfire. No smoldering brimstone. No four-letter words hurled my narrow way. No knots to unravel about why I was born in a Christian land and some jungle guy wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. The story of humankind is one, gigantic happily ever after.

You’ll find universalism in churches that call themselves Unity, Universalist, or Unitarian. It is the unofficial position of what can be called liberal Christianity; segments within mainstream groups like some Methodists, Episcopalians, or the United Church of Christ tilt toward Universalism. So do some Ivy League seminary professors, populist authors, many leading institutions of western civilization – arts, media, education – and celebrities like Oprah.

Warning: from here on, the names get extra confusing. Sorry. I didn’t make them up.

2. Universalistic Inclusivism

If my Inner Nice Guy wants to be a universalist, my Inner Conflict Avoider wants to be a universalistic inclusivist. That way I find salvation in Jesus alone and still unclench my hell muscles without losing my evangelical street cred. How does that work?

Universalistic inclusivism works by creating a nifty category called “Anonymous Christians.”[vi] Under this view, salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone, but people can be saved by Jesus Christ without knowing him by name. Sincere non-Christians benefit from the work of Christ just as much as Christians. Their sincerity proves their “implicit faith.”

Sounds like a win/win situation.

The Catholic church tilted hard this way in the mid-1960’s in an epic update called Vatican II. It said,

“Those [who have not yet received the gospel] also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds [emphasis added] to do His will as it is known unto them through the dictates of conscience.”[vii]

This position appears so win/win, in fact, it’s also called, “Lenient inclusivism.” Who wouldn’t want both sides of that label?

If you’re looking for universalistic inclusivism, check out your radically up-to-date nearby Catholic church. Also visit some non-Catholic churches formerly known as “emerging,” i.e., younger, hipper churches heavily influenced by popular authors like Spencer Burke,[viii] Brian McLaren,[ix] Rob Bell (?),[x] and Chuck Smith Jr.[xi]

3. Universalistic Exclusivism

A really nice group of friends began attending my church. They volunteered to duplicate audio and print media for our ministry. They were fun people. As I got to know them, they explained how they had spent most of their lives in a cult, and that their whole cult repented of their false teachings, and came to Jesus.

That got my attention…

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[i] The Knowledge of the Holy, 1975, p. 95.

[ii] De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX.

[iii] From his sermon, “The Eternity of Hell Torments.”

[iv] Quoted in Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, The Christian Hell: From the First to the Twentieth Century (1913?), p. 38.

[v] In Nancy Haught, “Ten Minutes with the UCC’s Carlton Pearson” on the United Church of Christ website, retrieved August 13, 2009.

[vi] The term, “Anonymous Christians,” was coined by Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner. For a discussion, see LeRoy Miller and Stanley James Grenz, eds., Fortress Introduction To Contemporary Theologies (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998), pp. 194, ff.

[vii] From Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 35, as cited by K. Neill Foster, in “Implicit Christians: An Evangelical Appraisal” in Alliance Academic Review.com, retrieved on July 29, 2009, http://www.allianceacademicreview.com/1998/AAR1998-7Foster.php

[viii] “I’m a Universalist who believes in Hell… [Grace] is ours simply because God has invited us to the party. We’re in unless we choose to be out. That is how grace works. We don’t opt in to it – we can only opt out.” Spencer Burke, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity (John Wiley and Sons, 2006), pp. 196, 202.

[ix] Brian McLaren describes a conversation with his daughter, Jess: “I tried to help Jess that Saturday afternoon by telling her about “inclusivism,” an alternative to the “exclusivist” view she was unhappy with. While exclusivism limited eternal life in heaven to bona fide, confessing Christians, inclusivism kept the door open that others could be saved through Christ even if they never identified as Christians… Exclusivism was my starting point, inclusivism was my fall-back, and conditionalism [that Hell and/or its punishment is temporary] was my last resort.” In his article on Beliefnet.com, “If Christianity Is True, People I Love Will Burn in Hell,” retrieved July 30, 2009. McLaren has not yet self-identified with any specific position on universalism other than to say he is not a universalist, though his writings flirt with and tend toward universalism.

[x] Rob Bell. Love Wins. 2011. It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint Bell’s position. He might be classified as a universalist exclusivist, see below. 

[xi] “New-school believers are asking if it is possible for people who do not know the true Jesus to still be covered by his re­demptive work, because he (alone) knows their hearts.” Without explicitly affirming universalism, the authors hint at it strongly in this chapter. Chuck Smith Jr. (not to be confused with his father, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement) and Matt Whitlock,Frequently Avoided Questions (Baker Books, 2005), p. 166.